The $14.7 million reconstruction of the Dale Street bridge over Interstate 94 begins this month with the goal of improving traffic flow, enhancing pedestrian safety and better connecting Rondo, the historic black St. Paul neighborhood divided by the freeway’s construction decades ago.
Ramsey County has spent three years working with the affected neighborhoods to design the span to include dedicated left-turn lanes, sweeping 16-foot-wide sidewalks, art, poetry and even dance steps etched into the pavement.
County leaders said this is a first-of-its-kind collaboration that takes into account neighborhood needs and acknowledges the role that buildings can play in promoting equity.
The utilitarian 1960s bridge the new span will replace has been seen as a hazard and a barrier to walkers and bikers. It also was viewed by some as a lingering scar, a reminder of when the newly built I-94 displaced more than 600 mostly black families.
Summit-University neighborhood residents asked county officials for a new bridge after a walkability study in 2013 flagged the current bridge as a dangerous and unwelcoming place for pedestrians.
County Board Chairwoman Toni Carter said the new bridge is “a project that should be celebrated for years to come.” She lauded the community engagement on the project, including the hiring of three artists who designed steel silhouettes, railings and concrete etchings to highlight the neighborhood’s culture and history.
One of the artists, Mica Lee Anders, said last year that the bridge will bring “beauty” to the community.
Said Carter: “The result is a design of a bridge that will serve us better in terms of its width, its safety features and its service to the community, but also the design of a bridge that has a memory of a community embedded in it through the art that will represent the community’s values, goals and history.”
The new bridge will be built one half at a time, which will allow one lane of traffic in each direction to flow over the bridge during construction. On and off ramps will be closed until late fall, according to a county spokeswoman.
Reconstruction of the bridge and the Dale Street approaches leading up to it won’t be finished until fall 2021. County officials said there’s no way to sugarcoat it: It’s going to be inconvenient. Good communication with affected neighbors will be critical, they said.
“From a construction disruption standpoint, it’s going to be huge,” said Public Works Director Ted Schoenecker, noting that the bridge is located right in the middle of St. Paul.
Artwork will include steel silhouettes of oak trees to symbolize the “strong roots of the Rondo community and a connection with natural, wooded landscapes.” The railings will feature a West African symbol representing wisdom and a spiral design to represent Hmong embroidery.
A poem will be etched into the sidewalk along with a leaf pattern that mirrors the dance steps of the Lindy Hop. The words “We are Rondo” will be etched into a concrete barrier in 13 languages.